For three quarters Tuesday night, Lance Stephenson was the best player on the floor in a game that featured a handful of All-Stars, including a couple of all-time greats on the other team.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade took over in the fourth quarter, leading the Miami Heat to a comeback win over Stephenson’s Indiana Pacers. But Stephenson’s 25-point, seven-assist, six-rebound performance was still awfully impressive.
It was the kind of performance that makes you wonder whether the Dallas Mavericks should reconsider their lack of interest in Stephenson as free agency approaches.
There’s a lot to like about the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Stephenson. He’s only 23 years old. He stuffs box scores, averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists for the East’s top seed this season. And he’s absolutely fearless.
But the Mavs’ front office doesn’t see Stephenson as a fit, particularly since they’d probably have to offer near a max contract to prevent the luxury-tax-fearing Pacers from matching it. (Stephenson is not a restricted free agent, but there’s no reason for him to leave Indiana if the money is equal.)
Then again, the Mavs’ interest in Monta Ellis was lukewarm at best at this time last year. We all know how that worked out, but the big difference here is that Stephenson isn’t desperate to escape his current situation and should have plenty of suitors in free agency.
So why wouldn’t the Mavs want Stephenson?
Well, we only have to flip the calendar back a few weeks to find a time when Stephenson was being heavily blamed for the Pacers’ demise. His behavior can often be politely described as erratic. He’s been accused of being selfish.
The Mavs have concerns about how Stephenson would fit in their culture. A strong argument could be made that he’d benefit from being around a bunch of veterans, but that atmosphere couldn’t keep Josh Howard, Lamar Odom and Delonte West from going south in recent seasons. It’s a risk the Mavs would rather not take for a player who would make an eight-figure salary and not have a perfect position fit.
That leads to the basketball-specific concerns. How would Stephenson fit in the Mavs’ lineup? If he’s a small forward, he’d give up at least a couple of inches in height in every matchup. The Mavs don’t want to break up their starting backcourt of Jose Calderon and Ellis. (My suggestion is to make Ellis a Jet-like sixth man, but they never seem to take my advice seriously.)
While Stephenson ranks among the league leaders in assists by wing players, he tends to be a ball stopper, dribbling and dribbling as the shot clock ticks down. Could he fit in the Mavs’ flow offense? Could he be compatible with Ellis, another driver who needs the ball in his hands a lot to be at his best?
All indications are that the Mavs aren’t willing to make a major investment in Stephenson to find out the answers to all their questions and concerns.